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Only Revolutions by Mark Danielewski: Wasted Talent

What an astounding disappointment!

After House of Leaves, I couldn't wait for Mark Danielewski's follow-up, Only Revolutions. I bought Only Revolutions (big mistake!) without even bothering to open it up and scan a few pages, figuring it had to be great based on how fantastic its phenomenal predecessor was.

Buyer beware: What a waste of money, purchasing Only Revolutions! I'm all for non-conformist narrative styles in fiction that oftentimes, in surprising and sublime fashion (e.g., House of Leaves,) broaden the scope of storytelling in breathtaking ways, but Only Revolutions, it pains me to state, is simply experimentation for experimentation's sake, and it's a book like this that gives the term "postmodern" a bad name in contemporary literature.

Some of the images Danielewski employs, when they're taken alone, are quite striking; the language sparkles with originality and power, but I believe the images don't connect together in meaningful ways. Taken alone, Danielewski's images could make great abstract poems; but taken together, one right after the other, Only Revolutions becomes solipsistic in the extreme, like a Jackson Pollack painting: Art to some, incomprehensible to most.

I wasn't around back when Finnegans Wake came out, but I've got to imagine that readers of Joyce who'd waited nearly twenty years for the follow up to Ulysses, must have experienced a similar disappointment, but worse, when they realized after a few pages into FW that not only was it not anything like Ulysses (and Ulysses is already hard enough to read as it is) but that the text and narrative was next-to-completely meaningless...a joke?, some must have asked!

I think it's fair to criticize me for comparing Only Revolutions to House of Leaves, rather than judging OR on its own unique terms, and coming to the text of OR with an open mind. I tried to. Believe me, I tried and tried. I read the first (or was it the last--or both? since the book can be read both forwards and backwards or upside-down and right-side up) fifty or so pages of OR again and again, trying to decode or decipher the prose-poetry and what the never ending list of names and dates (in a vertical column next to the non-narrative narrative) corresponded to in the text, but ultimately had to conclude that it was just gibberish, a pseudo-literary bowel movement a la Finnegans Wake, only, in Danielewski's defense, OR is a bit more readable than Finnegans Wake, but not by much.

Can Mark Danielewski maybe get away from being gimmicky and showing off how "creative" he can be and get back to writing fiction that doesn't sacrifice story for innovation; comprehensibility for a crafting that's not just hyper-creative? Is that too much to ask from such an obviously gifted, way way off-the-beaten-path writer?


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